§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to procedure at Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, and for other purposes connected therewith, said: Sir, I feel that an apology is due from me to the House for bringing forward this Bill, when it would naturally expect it to be done by my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington), who brought forward a similar Bill last year with so much ability, and who also acted as Chairman of the Select Committee appointed by the House to inquire into this subject. The reason why I have charge of the measure is that it requires not only to be introduced, but if its principle is—as I trust it will be on the second reading — accepted by the House, it will then have to be carried through Committee; and it is doubtful whether my noble Friend, with the duties of the Office that he now has to fulfil, would be able to give his time to this matter. The same remark applies also to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. With regard to myself, although I have a good deal of administrative work to do, as I have no legislative work at present in hand, it fell to me to take charge of this Bill. I shall not, however, take advantage of that fact to trespass on the attention of the House with arguments on the abstract question of the Ballot. The question has been debated so frequently in the House, and the opinion of the House has been pronounced upon it so clearly, that I do not think it necessary to occupy its time with the arguments for and against the abstract principle of the Ballot. I may just briefly state that almost from the very first moment when I took part in politics I have been in favour of the Ballot, on the ground that bribery and intimidation are two of the greatest evils we have to contend with in connection with our Parliamentary and representative system—and that the best way to prevent an evil is to stop the cause of it. The best way to prevent a crime is to stop the motives of that crime; and I conceive that the Ballot is by far the most likely mode of removing from men the temptation either to bribe or intimidate. On that ground 530 I have always thought we should be more successful by the Ballot than by Corrupt Practices Acts, or by penalties, however stringent, in averting the evils so often complained of at our elections. Another ground for the adoption of the Ballot is, I think, that we have no right, in imposing on any man the duty of returning a representative, to expose him to great danger, especially when we can guard him against that danger, and protect him by so simple a mode. Even our opponents will acknowledge that the Ballot will have the advantage of enabling us to conduct our elections in an easier, quieter, and more orderly manner. I think, indeed, nobody disputes that, comparing the elections in other parts of the world where the Ballot prevails with our own elections, where it does not prevail, the advantages of peace, order, and quietness in voting are much in favour of the Ballot, and this is an argument that applies with greater force as we increase the number of the electors. I just make these few remarks to show why I myself have long felt a great interest in this question, and, as I have said, I will not detain the House with arguments on the abstract question of the Ballot, although if it should hereafter be debated, I shall do my best to defend it. I, therefore, at once proceed to that part of the statement which hon. Members will expect me to make—namely, that which refers to any changes which have been made in this Bill as compared with the one brought in last year by my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington). I do not think I need dwell on those parts of the Bill which are the same as in the former Bill, because they were explained with such great clearness by my noble Friend—I mean the provisions as to the manner in which the Ballot was to be taken and in which the nominations were to be conducted. I may here state that one change which has been mentioned is not made in the Bill. I have seen it stated that possibly a permissive Ballot would be introduced; but I cannot conceive any question to which the permissive principle of legislation would be applied with less advantage than to the Ballot. The result of having a permissive Ballot would be that we should make the Ballot the subject of a reform agitation in every constituency in the kingdom—a most 531 undesirable result; and if there be one matter on which it is more important that the House should give a clear opinion than another it is the mode in which its Members should be elected—a mode which ought to be the same throughout the country. Well, the first great change made from the Bill of last year is that we now include municipal voting along with Parliamentary voting. The grounds on which we have made that change are these — In the first place, the Report of the Committee stated that there was reason for adopting the Ballot in municipal elections almost, if not quite, as much as in Parliamentary elections. My own impression is, that there is perhaps not so much intimidation at municipal elections, although they are not without it; there is a great deal of influence on the part of men of property and employers, but not perhaps that gross form of intimidation that we have to complain of at Parliamentary elections. But there is a great deal of treating and bribery, though not perhaps with such large sums; and, at any rate, the municipal elections stand in this position—that they are so frequently made use of as a preparation for the Parliamentary elections that it is clear that any attempt to stop the evils of the one ought to be extended also to the other. In addition to that, it almost seems to me there is a particular evil connected with the mode of voting at municipal elections, and that is voting by voting papers, which the voter takes in, and which he may have signed before taking them in. Undoubtedly the plan of getting the voting papers filled up by the voters in the case of the election of guardians seems more especially to open the door to influence. The voting paper is delivered at a man's house and left with him for two or three days, and at any moment during that time any person may go to his house and either bribe or influence him to give his vote. The vote at municipal elections can, of course, be given only at a certain time; but it is open to the kind of influence I have mentioned. We have thought that if the Ballot should be established for the one class of elections, it ought to be also for the other; and I believe I may state that my noble Friend would have included a municipal Ballot in his Bill for instituting a Parliamentary Ballot if it had been thought at the time that precisely the same sort 532 of Ballot would be applicable to the two kinds of elections. It was always intended that, after the establishment of a Parliamentary Ballot, there should be a municipal Ballot; but with the information they possessed last year the Government thought it might be necessary to take steps for the identification of Parliamentary votes after they had been given which would not have been requisite for municipal votes; and, therefore, it was deemed better to keep the two Bills distinct. This year we do not think that that necessity exists. And that brings me to the second change in our Bill, which is one of considerable importance, though one of detail, referring to the mode of taking votes by Ballot. In any Bill providing for vote by Ballot two conditions are necessary as to the machinery and manner of taking it. In the first place, I think all hon. Members will admit that the mode of taking the vote must be as simple as possible. I have had charge of this question but a very short time; but in that time the number of complicated machines for taking the Ballot that have been brought before me has quite astonished me at the wonderful ingenuity of those who take an interest in this matter. I dare say, if it had been a matter connected with my factory, I should have looked upon these contrivances with a great deal of interest and attention, as modes of manufacturing an article; but, in this particular case, we want them to be as simple as possible. It is not merely a machine that is very good if always skilfully handled and kept in good order that you require, but one that may be very badly handled, because the number of officials and people with whom you have to deal in the whole range of your voting are, many of them, so unacquainted with any complicated details that you must expect mistakes will be made wherever they can be made. The voters themselves will often be persons well qualified to say whom they prefer as their representatives, and yet unable to enter into the details of any complicated arrangement that would be successful if they did precisely as they were told, and did it also at the right time. I was quite surprised, at the late elections for the London school board, to find in how many cases men of great intelligence—although I gave them as 533 few directions as possible—were unable to understand how they were bound to record their votes. I was afterwards told of two or three instances where it was signed, and in one case by a member of an electioneering firm, who had taken part in a great many elections throughout the country. We must therefore keep the machinery as simple as possible. The next condition that we have to fulfil is a very important one, because the very essence of the Ballot is that it should be completely secret. By that expression I mean that a voter should not be able to prove to anyone how he has voted, because were he able to do so the object of the Ballot would be defeated, inasmuch as the person who tried to bribe or to intimidate him can demand from him, as the condition of his receiving the bribe or avoiding the danger he puts over his head, that he should prove to him how he has voted. You are, therefore, paltering with the question unless you make up your mind that if you have the Ballot it shall be such a Ballot that the voter shall be prevented from proving how he has voted. In the Bill brought forward by my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) last year, these conditions were almost entirely fulfilled, and the provisions relating to them have been repeated in the present measure. We require that no paper except the official paper shall be used—that is to say, that the object of the Ballot shall not be defeated by the use of a somewhat similar paper, which would enable it to be ascertained how the vote had been given. Another condition contained in the Bill of last year has also been adopted in the present measure, and that is, that the voting paper shall not be given to the voter until he enters the voting booth. This is a most important point, because in reviewing the results of the French elections under the Ballot system I have found that almost all the evils that have followed in their train have been occasioned by the fact that the Governments of the day, whether Republican or Imperial, have been accustomed to give the voting paper to the voter before he enters the booth. The third condition of the Bill of last year is also contained in the present measure—namely, that the voter shall not be permitted, to put any mark on his voting paper except that which is 534 sufficient for him to show for whom he has voted. The vote will, therefore, be cancelled and void if the voter signs his name or takes any steps in respect of his voting to prove that he is the person who has given that vote. Having stated what are the objects of the Ballot and the stipulations necessary to secure them, I must now mention that there are three dangers for which I at once admit the Ballot system is obnoxious, and against which we have to guard. The first of those dangers is that the voting papers may be tampered with by the officials having charge of the election, or by persons of influence who might by some means get hold of them; the second is the possibility of the voting papers being forged; and the third is the danger—which I do not myself apprehend, but which I know is feared by some hon. Members, and which we must guard against as much as possible—of the possible increase in personation, arising from the supposition that personation may be easier under the Ballot than under the present system. The first two of these dangers are peculiar to the Ballot, but the third does not apply to it specially. I will deal with the last of these dangers first, because I regard it as being the most important of them. It would be very unjust to charge the Ballot with giving rise to personation. Personation exists under the present system. Many hon. Members know that personation votes have been recorded against them, and there may be others who, in the inward recesses of their own consciences, suspect that personation votes have been recorded in their favour. If we had the most secret of all possible systems of Ballot, without any possibility of identifying the votes afterwards, there would still be nothing to prevent the voter from being followed, if he votes, although it may be impossible to follow the vote. I heard it stated in the course of the election for the London school board that it was quite possible for a man to "vote early and vote often;" but I only wish that any hon. Members who agree with that remark had tried the experiment, because nothing is easier than that the name of each voter as he comes to the poll should be ticked off, by which means an attempt on his part to vote a second time would be at once discovered, when the man would be arrested and punished. Therefore, under 535 the Ballot there is about as much danger of a man voting a second time as there is under the present system, but no more. I suppose that under the present system a reckless man may go from one polling-booth to another and so record his vote twice; but that such a thing should be possible is due to the manner in which the register is kept, and not to the method in which the vote is recorded. Now, let us take the case of a man voting in place of somebody else. I do not think it will be asserted that the Ballot would invent that form of improper voting, which is not unknown under the present system. If the perpetrator of such a fraud is discovered under the Ballot, he can, as under the present system, be arrested and punished. The probability of such a fraud being successful is just as likely under the existing plan as it would be under the Ballot. It has been argued that under the present system the vote could be followed and struck out; whereas under the Ballot the vote must stand, however illegally it may have been given. In order to meet this danger many plans have been devised for having a possible scrutiny. My noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) in his Bill of last year sought to achieve this object by adopting a system of counterfoils, and I believe that to be the best plan that could be devised for the purpose. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), whose name I cannot refrain from mentioning with honour in connection with the Ballot, suggested that some mark should be made upon the voting paper with invisible ink, which might be rendered visible by chemical means, and thus, as by a recording angel, the iniquity of the voter should be brought before the court. But although I myself prefer the plan of my noble Friend we came to the conclusion that it was not necessary to adopt either of the propositions. In the first place, by adopting either of them we should be taking away very much from the simplicity of the mode of voting; and, secondly, however careful we might be in devising regulations for conducting the arrangements according to the principles of the Ballot, it was felt that if we are to have the Ballot at all we ought to have it complete, so that the voter shall have perfect confidence that his vote will be secret. I have argued the question hitherto upon the assump- 536 tion that it is desirable we should follow the vote, but I may now ask why we should attempt to follow the vote at all. No advocate of the Ballot proposes to enable this scrutiny to be made or the secresy of the vote to be violated, except in the case of the voter being found guilty of bribery and the vote being condemned as invalid in due course of law. In neither the Bill of the noble Lord nor in that of the hon. Member for Huddersfield was it proposed that a vote should be struck out until it had been proved to be invalid in a Court of Law—in fact, until the personation had been found out. Therefore, the inducement to detect the particular vote disappears, because the vote must have been detected already before it would be possible to attack it. It would have been necessary that some person should have had a strong suspicion that A had personated B, and that, having that suspicion, he should have brought the matter before a Court of Law, and that the Court of Law should have declared that he had proved his case before any scrutiny could, have been made. Thus the motive to follow up and to attack the vote would have been reduced to the very slightest possible. The man who would be inclined to put this machinery in motion would do so in order to unseat his opponent. The object hitherto in presenting an election petition has been to unseat the sitting Member for bribery, or other illegal practice, rather than to obtain a seat by a scrutiny. The cases in which scrutinies have been demanded have been very few indeed. We all know that in a very bad case the expense is so enormous that the parties almost always stop short before they reach the point of a scrutiny. I am, however, very desirous that the result of this Bill should be to diminish rather than to increase personation, and in framing the measure I found an omission in the last Corrupt Practices Act the remedy for which would give a defence against personation much stronger than any possible scrutiny could give. I found, that although a man loses his seat for bribing or treating, or attempting to bribe or treat, either personally or by his agents, he does not lose his seat for procuring or attempting to procure personation, but is simply guilty of a misdemeanour. We propose, therefore, to insert a clause placing the attempt at personation on 537 the same ground as treating, and that a candidate who has had recourse to it shall be liable to be unseated. Another argument in favour of following the vote is that, if in a Court of Law it has been proved that a candidate has received a personated vote, it would be unfair for him—especially if the numbers ran close—to have the credit of the vote in the final result. We acknowledge this, and have provided that, where in a case of re-opening the question of the number of votes it is found that a personated vote has been given, a vote shall then be struck off from the total votes of the candidate who, through himself or his agents, has been proved to instigate personation, and at the same time we provide that where an elector tendering his vote finds some one else has voted for him the vote shall be kept aside and under certain circumstances counted for the candidate in whose favour he had intended to vote. This is a legal question somewhat difficult of explanation; but I think hon. Members will find on examination that we have succeeded in framing a measure which will, if passed, render personation much less likely to occur than it is at the present moment. I now come to one or two dangers which are peculiar to the Ballot. The first is that of tampering with the voting papers, and in regard to that we do not propose to make much difference between our measure and that introduced by my noble Friend last year. We propose that when a voting paper has once been put into the ballot-box the box shall not be opened except under such precautions as shall secure the inviolability of the vote. The second danger is much greater, and requires to be more carefully guarded against than that of personation — I allude to the possibility of forged voting papers being used. My noble Friend's Bill guarded against that by his system of counterfoils, and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) also proposed a plan with the same object; but, as we had decided to do without either counterfoils or invisible ink, it remained for us to consider how we should guard against the danger. I think we have entirely met the case by adopting this simple precaution—the returning officer, as he gives out his paper to each voter, shall impress it with a stamp, the character of which he shall be bound to keep secret, and which shall not be used 538 again until a certain fixed time shall have expired. Then, when the boxes come to be opened, each unstamped voting paper shall be rejected as void. This is a course which will, I think, do away entirely with the danger of forged papers being used. I now come to a change in the second part of the Bill of last year for the prevention of corrupt practices. That, again, is a matter for very few words, the object being rather to supply an unintentional omission in that Bill than to introduce anything new. It was there provided that any candidate who did not include all his election expenses in the returns should be considered to have committed an offence bearing the same consequences as bribery. At the present moment any candidate who pays himself, instead of through his agent, any expense except such as the candidate is allowed to pay by law, or who does not include all the expenses in his return, is adjudged guilty of a misdemeanour; but he does not consequently lose his seat. The Bill of last year provided that this should place him in the same position as if he had committed bribery. On re-consideration of the matter, we thought that it was rather too much to say that because he had made such an omission he should be in the same position as if he had bribed or attempted to bribe; and we now propose that the penalty should be the same as if he had been guilty of treating only—that is, that he should lose his seat. I believe that was the real intention of the clause in the Bill of last year. But while we have weakened the clause in one direction we have strengthened it in another. Last year it was proposed that the clause should apply merely to the omission from the return of expenses it ought to have included, and not to the case of a candidate who with his own hands paid expenses which ought to have passed through the hands of his agent. The clause as now proposed would provide for the case I have just stated, and in that particular it is more stringent than the clause in the Bill introduced by my noble Friend last year. Some few other clauses we have left exactly as they stood last year. One of these is the proposal to prohibit the use of public-houses as committee-rooms during the progress of elections. I should personally have been very glad if we could have gone further and shut public- 539 houses altogether on the day of election; but upon full consideration we felt that in our proposal to the House we could not go beyond the recommendation of the Committee on this point. We, therefore, think the question may be fairly left to the consideration of the House when it shall have gone into Committee on the Bill. I may add we shall be glad to hear the arguments on both sides of this question, as also on that other point of the employment of paid canvassers. Many hon. Members would like to see the employment of paid canvassers done away with altogether, but the question is one beset with difficulties. An election cannot be conducted without the employment of some paid servants, and as you cannot prevent such servants asking votes for the candidates employing them, they at once become paid canvassers. But, on the other hand, the system of paid canvassing is a bad one; and I have merely made these remarks in order to throw the question before the House, and open it for consideration and discussion when we get into Committee on the Bill. Another part of the Bill that we leave as it was last year with very little alteration—except that we have applied it to municipal as well as to Parliamentary elections—relates to the getting rid of the old plan of nominating candidates and making the final declaration of the poll. I confess that I had for some time a feeling in favour of keeping up the old system of nomination; but I have now come to the conclusion that such a system is not in accordance with the necessities of the present time. Those old nominations were a great advantage when voting was very limited, and when candidates in populous places who fancied themselves to be on the side of the people liked to appeal from the electors to the non-electors; but the Reform Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) has removed that ground for maintaining the ancient system of nomination. We have now very large and extensive constituencies which really represent the feeling of the country, and the time has gone by when in the large towns candidates had to commence their addresses—"Electors and Non-electors." I own I am sometimes at a loss whether I shall or shall not say "Ladies and Gentlemen;" but I have entirely dropped 540 the old formula, and commence my speeches with the simple word "Electors." Our aim ought certainly to be to make an election as simple a proceeding as possible, and to enable every elector desiring to do his duty to do so; but I cannot help thinking that the old noisy open-air nominations had a tendency to frighten quiet people away rather than to attract them to the hustings. If my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Sir Henry Storks) were in his place he would be able to show to the House what is, I hope, the last stone thrown in the course of a contested election. The missile was aimed at my right hon. Friend on the hustings at Ripon on the occasion of the recent declaration of the poll there, and he, with that extraordinary adroitness which he has shown on more fields than one, caught the stone, and has preserved it as a memento of the occasion. It is a somewhat curious fact that although nominations and declarations of polls in Yorkshire have always been very noisy, there is no part of the kingdom in which public meetings are more orderly. This fact seems to me to prove clearly that it is unnecessary to maintain the old system in order that candidates may have opportunities of stating their political views. Few hon. Gentlemen, probably, have had greater experience of election meetings than I have. When I stood for the borough of Leeds, and was defeated, I held 30 public meetings, and when I stood with my present Colleague for Bradford (Mr. Miall) at the last election, I held a similar number, but though some of the meetings I have attended have been favourable and others unfavourable to me, in no case have I found any difficulty in obtaining an orderly and attentive hearing while I have argued political questions on which there existed much difference of opinion. I have never found that argument was possible at a nomination. We propose that the nomination shall be perfectly public, and that there shall be ample opportunity given for bringing forward the candidates in public. But I need not say that on this matter, and on all other matters, the Government will be very glad to have the assistance of the Committee, when we get into Committee. I come now to one other change, which is a matter of some importance, and that 541 is the question of the expenses of an election. I mean the legal expenses, and, when I speak of legal expenses, I draw a line between absolute compulsory expenses, if I may so call them, and expenses that are permitted. When I talk of legal expenses, I mean the expenses which the law imposes, not what the law permits—the expenses of the returning officer. When we turn to that question we find rather a curious fact, and that is that the election for Members of Parliament is the only election in the country in which the expenses of the returning officer are not paid by the constituency. I believe I may safely go further, and say that it is the only election for any representative body in the world to which that exception is applied. I have not been able to find any other case in our Colonies or in any other nation where the expenses of the returning officer are not borne by the constituency. The Government have come to the conclusion that these expenses ought no longer to be imposed upon the candidate; and we have come to that determination upon two grounds—first, that it is wrong in principle that they should be imposed; and, secondly, that the system works badly in practice. I think we shall almost all acknowledge that it is wrong in principle. Surely if there be any expense connected with the election of a Member of Parliament, that expense ought to be borne by a constituency or a district. What right has the State to pick out individuals and say they should bear the expense rather than the district which it is absolutely necessary to represent in Parliament? The present system, in my opinion, puts the Member and those he represents in a false position from the very beginning. You have no right to say that the beginning of the relations between himself and his constituency should be a pecuniary favour which he bestows upon them by taking upon himself the expenses of performing their duty. It may be said that in England we are not generally guided by the consideration of purely logical principles, though we shall find that, if there be a decided logical fault in any arrangement it will show itself, more or less, first or last. I do not dwell much on this question as one of principle, although I think it is of importance in that respect, but because I think it works very badly in 542 practice, and especially badly under the present circumstances, when we have so largely increased the area of the constituencies. The very term "returning officer" seems to show that you mean by that an officer appointed by a district; otherwise, if you meant it to be the candidate's servant, appointed by the candidate, you would call him the candidate's officer. However, leaving that question, we will see how the matter works. At this moment we find a great number of persons throughout the country complaining against the working of the system. Many of them are men who call themselves the working-men candidates. I say they call themselves so, because I very much object to the term. I think it is a term that we have rather persuaded men to use. I think that in this House and throughout the country we have talked too much of working men being a special political class. The great argument in favour of the Reform Bill was that we took from them all ground of calling themselves a special political class by admitting all householders throughout the kingdom to a share of the franchise. I say it is unwise in us to call them a special class, and no individuals among them have any right to step forward and say that they specially represent the working classes, or that they are specially the working-man's candidates. On account of the enormous numbers of the working men this is more absurd than it would be for a few individuals in the middle classes to step forward and say they are the representatives of the middle classes. Any man would be thought purely ridiculous if he did so. But still the persons who choose to call themselves working-men's candidates, and who are entitled to a good deal of influence, find the present regulation standing in the way of their representing their fellow working men. There are many men throughout the country who wish to get into Parliament, whom their friends wish to get into Parliament, and whom we wish to see in Parliament, but who, on account of their circumstances, find this regulation a great difficulty in the way of their attaining their object. It is none the less important because many of them do not represent, any more than persons in other classes, those of the working classes who have taken a special part in politics; and I think it is highly important 543 that we should throw no obstacle in their way, nor in the way of any persons stepping forward to take their part in the deliberations of the House. The present faulty system applies to these persons now; it might apply to other persons at a different time. It applies to persons who represent the opinions or the wishes of persons who have not property themselves, but who would desire that their representative should be one of themselves, and who could not naturally be expected to pay the expenses of their election. Take the Trades Union Bill, brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is a Bill which the Government have framed with the greatest desire that it should be a fair Bill, and meet the just claims of the artizans throughout the country; but we should very much prefer that there should be some active member of trades unions to help us in legislation on the subject of the measure. It would be a great advantage to us if we had such help. I say, without fear of contradiction, that the hustings expenses stand between such men and a seat in this House. These expenses are very heavy in the case of elections for large towns. Looking over the Return of the last election, I find that in England the whole amounted in the year 1868 to £82,812. These are purely hustings expenses. In Scotland the amount was £7,320. But as one or two Returns are incomplete, we may say that in England the expenses were £92,000, being about double the amount for 1865, in consequence, I suppose, of the Reform Bill having largely increased the constituency. The hustings expenses at Manchester were £1,335. Well, a sixth of that is a heavy sum for a man to be obliged to pay to be returned to this House. The hustings expenses in the Tower Hamlets were £1,162. At Bradford, I find my Colleague, myself, and the other gentlemen who were candidates had to pay £811. [An hon. MEMBER: That includes polling-booths.] Polling-booths are part of the necessary expenses of an election. I mean the actual legal expenses without which an election could not be conducted. Well, suppose I had had to run in competition with a working man, I should have felt that he would have been heavily weighted in the contest, and that it would have been 544 a great difficulty for him, in his position, to provide his legal share of the expenses. If, then, we are to act fairly and impartially, we should alter this practice. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) said the rule should be that the ultimate political power should rest with the householders throughout the country, and that there should be no attempt bylaw to guide the direction of that power; but this practice imposes on all candidates a burden which, although apparently equal, is really most unequal, and, therefore, it is an attempt by law to direct the representation of one class rather than another. I cannot help thinking that when we fully consider what is the principle behind this exception, and how it really works, the House will be of an unanimous opinion with the Government, that the proposed arrangement ought to be carried, into effect. I have now gone over the different changes contemplated in the Bill, and I do not know that I need detain the House any longer. But I will make one or two remarks before I sit down. It has been my good fortune, for the short time I have had a seat on this Bench, to have had the conduct of two or three measures which have not excited any party feeling, and on which I have received the support of both sides of the House. I do not hope that I shall be equally fortunate this time; and yet, if seriously considered, hon. Gentlemen opposite may see reason not to treat this as a party measure. I am quite aware that objections may be raised on both sides of the House upon the principle of it, as being contrary to their feeling that an election should be performed with publicity and in accordance with established English practice. That is, no doubt, a primâ facie objection. The more, however, hon. Members look into the principle of the measure I feel persuaded they will the sooner come to the conclusion that we have no right to impose a duty upon a man and not give him every protection in the fulfilment of that duty. I merely make allusion to the argument, because, in appealing to hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am quite sure that to some extent they have a feeling which is quite independent of party. If they had not this feeling, which is disappearing every day, I should really challenge their support on Conservative principles. I believe the time has gone 545 past when this Bill can be considered a measure against the Conservative interest. I honestly believe that, at this moment, Conservative policy and Conservative interests may as much claim the protection of the Ballot as any other; and that in fact—it is only human nature that it should be so—we have to guard as much against mob tyranny as against landlord intimidation. That is a matter which I have no doubt will be taken into account on both sides of the House, and it evidently weighed with the able men who constituted the Parliamentary Committee on the subject. But there is another ground on which I would hope for support from the great Conservative party, and, especially, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) and the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), for it really is merely carrying out the principle of that measure which they passed, and for which we all know we are so much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire. Well, what was the principle of that measure? It was that we should increase the extent of the constituency, and that for the future government of the country we should rely on the people of the country. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) stated, in that concise form which is true eloquence, that he had faith in the feelings and instincts of the people; he had a belief, looking back to the past history of England, that the English were a people not prone to useless change; and he felt—and he had history behind him, more than perhaps many of us like to believe to be the case—that the English people are really a very Conservative people; that they have great attachment to the associations of the past, and a great want of confidence in the promises of the future, and, therefore, a great respect for the powers that be at the moment. I believe the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in having that reliance on the mass of the population. I should be doing him the greatest possible injustice if I supposed for a moment, in relying upon that Conservative feeling and that respect for the institutions and authorities of the country, he put his trust in any illegitimate influence possessed by those of high social position. I do not for a moment believe it. I know the right hon. Gentleman relied on legitimate influence, and let us just 546 see what is the difference between the two. That is illegitimate influence on the part of the landlord when he turns his tenant out for not voting as he desires, or threatens that he will do so. That is illegitimate influence on the part of the customer when he says he will deal no longer with the tradesman who refuses to vote on his side. And that is illegitimate influence when the rich man tries to bribe the poor man. All these are influences which would be enormously increased under the present extended suffrage. No one, I think, will deny it, and my reason for supporting the Ballot is because I believe it the best means of sapping every illegitimate influence. But there are legitimate influences which I hope never to see diminished—the influence of education; the influence of experience; the influence of the right fulfilment of the duties of property; the influence of the man who claims consideration, who asks to be trusted as a servant of his country because his forefathers have deserved well of the State. I refuse to look forward to the time when such influences would be lost. Well, I support the Ballot because I believe it would destroy the illegitimate influences of bribery and intimidation, which are those besetting sins of our Parliamentary system, to remove which we have been vainly struggling for years. I believe the present measure will do what we want, because it will touch the motive that prompts to the commission of these crimes. I ask the support of all sides of the House, because I feel sure all are anxious to destroy illegitimate influence; and also, for the reason that the more you destroy that influence the more you will increase the legitimate influence, because any attempt to use illegitimate influence produces needless irritation and prejudices people against persons who may have the power to intimidate them, though they may rarely or never have practised intimidation. Why is the Ballot so eagerly desired by vast numbers of voters? I have sometimes seen it said by writers in the public Press that the cry of the Ballot is a factitious cry. That is a great mistake. There is no question which has been more seriously considered or more eagerly desired by a large class. And why? Because they believe that the Ballot would be a blow to bribery and intimi- 547 dation; because it would take away the motive to bribe and intimidate, and even the power to do so. You may depend upon it that it is not by keeping the power to bribe a man to vote against his opinions, or the power to force him to do so, but rather by relying upon his free will to give them his support, that men of property, intelligence, and social distinction can hope to keep that political influence which they now possess. I beg to move for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ MR. LEATHAM
Mr. Speaker—Sir, I must congratulate the Government upon their improved attitude with regard to this question. I accept the early introduction of this measure and the fact that it has been placed in the hands of my right hon. Friend as evidences that we are at last about to proceed to a legislative issue. And, Sir, this improvement in the attitude of the Government is attended by an improvement equally marked in the character of their Bill. When the noble Marquess introduced his Bill last year, I ventured to point out what appeared to me two very serious defects. Although that measure purported to be the ripe fruit of the wisdom of a Committee appointed at the instance of the Government—To inquire into the present modes of conducting Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, in order to provide further guarantees for their tranquillity, purity, and freedom,yet, so far as municipal elections were concerned, that Bill provided no further guarantees whatever. And because it failed to provide those guarantees, it robbed the Parliamentary Ballot which it did provide of nearly half its value; for the only true way of looking at Parliamentary and municipal elections is that they are both merely incidents in the same prolonged and interminable political contest; and the only true view to take of the Parliamentary in relation to the municipal body is that they are Siamese twins, with a common life and a common liability to disease. If, therefore, you check bribery at the Parliamentary election, but leave it unchecked at the municipal election, you may be quite sure that corruption will flow back from the municipal into every vein and artery of the Parliamentary body. But the Bill of my right hon. Friend excels that of the noble Marquess in another respect. The Bill of last year contained provisions for a scrutiny, and the identi- 548 fication of votes was secured by a system of numbers and counterfoils, together with a code of rules, upon the minute observance of which the secresy of the whole plan depended; but the minute observance of which nobody expected to see. That Bill, therefore, left quite a loop-hole for the discovery of the votes by candidates' agents; and, so far as candidates' agents are concerned, the Ballot should have none, for we may be quite sure that these unscrupulous and ingenious gentlemen will leave no stone unturned before they surrender the hold which they at present possess over the votes and consciences of so many of their fellow-subjects. And with what confidence will men, awed by intimidation, exercise the franchise, when they know that among a hundred chances there is one, at least, that their votes may be discovered and their ruin follow? Indeed, I was so deeply impressed by this consideration, that I should never have ventured to have introduced provisions for a scrutiny into the Bill which I had myself the honour to bring in, if I had not felt sure that I was in a position to recommend machinery which would render every valid vote impenetrable. And in combining an absolutely close Ballot, so far as every valid vote was concerned, with the power of scrutiny in the case of every invalid one, I flattered myself that I had really solved what has always been regarded as the knot of the Ballot question. My right hon. Friend has approached that knot like a conqueror in quite another field. He has cut, he has not solved it. His Bill is not merely a Bill for the introduction of vote by Ballot, but for the abolition of scrutiny; and I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the courage with which he thus confronts, in place of evading, the stringent arguments which can be brought against the Ballot itself. Of course, in dealing with a question of this character, the Government possesses advantages over a private Member. A private Member would feel, as I felt, that he was bound, if possible, to cover the whole ground; to attempt nothing more than appeared upon the face of the Bill; to leave all existing guarantees for purity of election untouched; but my right hon. Friend, with a strong Government at his back, is able by the same Bill not only to make changes in the mode of taking votes, but a great and 549 sweeping change in the law of elections. I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend by following this course has not endangered his measure, either here or "elsewhere;" but it would be idle to ignore the fact that there are hon. Members in this House who sat upon the Committee on Elections, and who are therefore able, from their knowledge of the evidence, to bring to bear upon my right hon. Friend's advance in this particular direction a very formidable artillery. Be this as it may, in any such attack they will receive no support from me; and on my own behalf and that of those who have acted with me in the advocacy of the Ballot I must offer my right hon. Friend our sincere thanks for having brought in so complete a measure, and the assurance of our cordial and unreserved support.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman who had introduced the measure that any remark which he might make he should make in no party spirit. After a long Parliamentary career he was one of the unfortunate persons who belonged to no party; and he must add that the reason why he occupied that position was that there had been on both sides of the House a total want of principle in their proceedings. He must venture to compliment the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the measure for the candour and clearness with which he had performed his task. But he could not compliment him upon his humanity, for a more unkind remark than that which he had made and directed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) he (Mr. Bentinck) had never heard during the whole course of his career in that House. The right hon. Gentleman began by talking of "the principle" of the Reform Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. Now, that was the first time he (Mr. Bentinck) had ever heard the word "principle" applied in connection with that measure. But the right hon. Gentleman went further—he, a distinguished member of the great Liberal party, had actually thanked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire for the enormous boon he had given in his Reform Bill to the Liberal party. He (Mr. Bentinck) had ever entertained but one opinion of that measure— 550 namely, that it was one of the most Radical measures that had ever been brought before the House. He did not expect, however, to hear publicly so gracious a recognition of its character from so distinguished a Member as the right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House. With all the candour of the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill, he had not been quite fair on one point. Hon. Members opposite were fond of harping on what they called landlord influence, and the right hon. Gentleman said one of the advantages of the Bill would be to destroy landlord influence. He did not mean for a moment to deny that in some places the influence of landlords had made itself felt; but he would venture to say that an undue influence had been quite as liberally applied by the political friends of those on the one side of the House as upon the other. In the next place, though the effect of the measure of the right hon. Gentleman might be to do away with mob influence—a result at which he would rejoice—he appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite to say whether there was not also too often exercised at elections the influence of the great employers of labour. If they were rightly informed no class of men exercised greater influence at Parliamentary elections than the great employers of labour. ["Hear, hear!"] Then, why were they to be told publicly that no persons exercised undue influence at elections except landlords? Let all stand on the same footing. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of three dangers he wished to provide against — namely, tampering with the voters, bribery, and personation; but he failed to show how those dangers would be averted by his Bill. The right hon. Gentleman flattered himself that he would secure complete secresy of voting by his measure. Now, if he had taken the trouble to study the history of this question of Ballot voting on the other side of the Atlantic or in any other country where it was adopted he would find that it had utterly failed in securing any secresy whatever. And it was impossible by any exercise of human ingenuity or human legislation, to arrive at a system of complete secresy in respect to voting. It was an impossibility for two reasons—first, it was impossible to prevent those persons who were anxious to have their mode of 551 voting known making it public; next, he would undertake to say that by far the larger portion of the population, in spite of this Bill, were determined at all times to make their votes public. In reference to bribery, he (Mr. Bentinck) would remind the House of a statement made on one occasion, when the late lamented Mr. H. Berkeley brought forward his annual Ballot Bill—that boroughs would be put up at a price, like articles in a shop-window. He quoted that statement in the House, and in the Division he went into the "No" Lobby with a noble Earl, then one of the chief leaders of the Liberal party, and now no longer a Member of that House. The noble Earl acknowledged that what he had said was perfectly correct, and that under the Ballot the buying of boroughs would be perfectly easy to carry out. He, for one, believed it to be impossible to deal with bribery under the Ballot, and the best description which could be given to any such measure as that now introduced would therefore be "a Bill to render impossible the detection of bribery." He demurred to the assertion that the Ballot was ardently desired throughout the country, and he undertook to say that if they would put this question of the Ballot to this honourable House by means of the Ballot it would be rejected by a large majority. The Ballot might be desired in large towns, where there was a dread of intimidation, and where intimidation was practised with impunity; but he believed that it was disliked in small towns, and was detested by the larger proportion of the population in the country. He would venture to say that if they were to test the question whether the people of England were or were not in favour of the Ballot by means of the Ballot itself there would be found a large majority against it. How did they mean to treat this question so far as regarded the unrepresented portion of the people—namely, the rural population? He was convinced that the Ballot was most unpopular with those large classes. They would reject the principle, and would not condescend to adopt it. He should like to know how the right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with it in reference to constituencies where the majorities rejected the Ballot. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman was introducing a measure that was 552 most unpopular to the great masses of the country and to those residing in the rural districts, and that the only effect of it would be to prevent the discovery of bribery.
§ SIR DOMINIC CORRIGAN
begged to offer to the right hon. Gentleman his warmest support in the progress of his measure through the House. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bentinck) had stated that such a measure was against the wish of the country. That might be a matter of fact or of opinion. As far as his (Sir Dominic Corrigan's) experience went, he should confidently assert that the majority of the people was in favour of the Ballot. In regard to the question put by the hon. Gentleman as to how far the right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with the unrepresented portion of the population, it appeared to him (Sir Dominic Corrigan) time enough to deal with their opinions upon the Ballot when they possessed votes. It had been said that the Ballot ought not to have been introduced because the vote was a public trust and the country should know how that trust was exercised. That objection raised the question, what was the tribunal that was to determine whether the voter had given his vote honestly or dishonestly? They should have two tribunals to decide this point so long as they had two great political parties in the State. And he hoped that they should never see the country without those two parties, because otherwise there would be a monopoly in polities, which he thought would be as injurious to the general interests of the country as was a monopoly in trade injurious to the commercial world. Well, then, to which tribunal was a person to be made amenable as to the proper exercise of his trust? Was it to be the tribunal established by the minority or the majority in that House? He had had the gratification of being in both positions. He had joined the minority because he thought with them, and he had been found with the majority because they thought with him. It was obvious under such circumstances that no tribunal was competent to decide such a question but that of a man's own reason, conviction, and conscience. The next argument adduced against this measure was that phrase which they had heard so often—namely, that the Ballot was un-English. When the meaning of the phrase "un-Eng- 553 lish" was asked, it would be found that no definite signification was attached to the term. There was a time when it was considered un-English to smoke, and the occupier of the Throne condescended to reproach those who approached him with the smell of smoke. Not long since it was considered very un-English—and, for the matter of that, un-Irish, too—to have an election unaccompanied by a shower of paving-stones and brickbats. He hoped the last hustings reminiscences of this kind would be deposited in the British Museum—he believed it was a piece of limestone, which had been adroitly seized by an hon. and gallant Member (Sir Henry Storks) who had not long since come into that House. It was not very long since a number of gentlemen had united in a well-known borough to form themselves into a joint-stock company for the purpose of returning certain Members. It was not very long since an election would have been considered un-English which had not been characterized by bribery. And he trusted that before long the practice of promoting men in the Army by purchase, instead of by merit, would be un-English too. The abolition of the nomination was a feature in the Bill which he cordially approved. In the charges for his election was a heavy item, which, without breach of confidence, he might, perhaps, inform the House he had paid. That item was "to obtain a hearing;" but the men who attended for that purpose believed they would best attain that object by preventing his opponent from being heard. His opponent's friends did exactly the same thing, and the natural result was that neither could procure a hearing. He contended that the nomination was a curse to the town in which the election was held; and that it led to drunkenness, idleness, violence, and immorality. The question was one that ought to be dealt with irrespective of party considerations. He, at all events, in advocating it, did so without pretending to any knowledge of the result. Some urged that it would lead to the increase of sectarian, and others that it would lead to the increase of democratic influence. That might be the case or it might not. In his own country he believed the tendency of the Ballot might be as much to aid the landlords as in any other direction. In many of the agricultural districts there was a strong tendency to 554 almost feudal attachment, and with the political views which he himself entertained, if he were to consult merely his own selfish interests, these might lead him to oppose the Ballot. But if the result to the country at large were that the people, consulting their own minds and balancing the pros and cons, thought it the wisest course to support a manufacturer in one place, a landlord in another, and their guide in religion in a third, he said let it be so; let their action be the result of reason guided by good sense, and he should be satisfied with the result.
said, he was very anxious that this question should not be debated as a party measure He remembered this question being debated many years ago, and in a speech which was delivered by Lord Moncreiff, who held the office of Lord Advocate, he used words to the effect that he did not concur in the opinion that if vote by Ballot were adopted it would prevent intimidation; and he stated that he maintained that a vote at an election was as sacred a trust as a vote in that House, and ought to be exercised for the public; and, further, he did not think that secret voting would prevent bribery. He (Mr. Scour-field) was inclined to think that those observations were not without force.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
congratulated the Government upon the measure they had introduced, which was a decided advance on the Bill of last year. He regretted, however, that a provision had not been introduced for the abolition of paid canvassers, and said he should propose a clause on the subject in Committee. He wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman said that, though he could not abolish the opening of public-houses, he would abolish the holding of committee-rooms in public-houses. He approved of the measure, and believed it would not only meet with the acceptance of the Liberal side of the House, but would obtain considerable support from the opposite Benches.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
congratulated his right hon. Friend upon the courteous and considerate manner in which he had introduced this Bill. But he regretted that his right hon. Friend had rolled two Bills into one; and protested against the vexed question of secret voting being mixed up with the question of public-houses and committee-rooms. He had 555 always been an opponent of the Ballot, and he did not like the Ballot now. At the same time, he had taken part in every reasonable proposal from both sides of the House to get rid of the good old English electioneering, with all its concomitants of drunkenness, broken heads, and other amenities of which most of them had some recollection. For scenes such as he himself had witnessed—a large space, for instance, in a manufacturing town crowded with some 10,000 operatives hooting, shouting, and disturbing the tranquillity and good order of the town not only for the day, but with consequences visible for days afterwards—there was nothing in extenuation to be offered, save the existence of some old creeping tradition. But among the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman had advanced in favour of the Ballot he seemed totally to have lost sight of the element of human nature; until he could cut out of the human frame that unruly member the tongue he never would succeed in making voting secret. Nor could he hope to get rid of intimidation. All the accounts received from the United States, where probably the most gigantic system of secret voting in the world existed, concurred in saying that a man was hustled, mobbed, and buffeted if he did not go to the poll with his ticket in his hat. There were persons who believed that the same thing could not happen in this country; but the attorney mind in England, he believed, was clever enough to devise means of bringing influence to bear wherever the occasion arose. The severe punishment threatened against personation might very possibly defeat the object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view. In any case it would be impossible to expose and punish personation without breaking in upon the principle of absolute secresy—the very proposal for striking off a vote for each man convicted of personating involved its being proved on which side the man had personated, and where would then be the secresy? While admitting that the Bill had many excellent points, he regretted that the subject of secret voting had not been submitted to the House for separate discussion on its own merits.
§ MR. JAMES
hoped that he might be allowed to say a few words in welcome of the Bill, and congratulated the Government that they had introduced a 556 complete and perfect measure on the subject. Last year the Committee that had sat on the subject had felt it necessary to introduce the proviso of the scrutiny; but he rejoiced that the Government had had the courage to throw over that point, and they now were to have the Ballot without the scrutiny. In 1867 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) had suggested that when a candidate was proved to have received votes through bribery the election should be held to have passed to the other candidate, however few votes he might have polled. That principle was, however, one capable of dangerous extension, and he thought that the present proposal, which only struck off the number of votes actually obtained by illicit means, was much preferable.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
, in reply, said, if the Committee should decide that cards were preferable to voting papers he should have no objection to give effect to their decision. The Bill contained sufficient safeguards against the "Tasmanian dodge," and likewise provided against forged voting papers and tampering with the votes. The opportunities of personation would be less frequent than at present. As regards public-houses, he thought he had already stated that electioneering meetings would not in future be allowed to be held in them, unless the candidate was present. There was great cogency in the argument against paid canvassers; but, at the same time, there was great difficulty in framing an enactment against them. It was a question, however, which he should be glad to have fully discussed in Committee. With respect to personation, he might remark that the Bill made no attempt to keep secret the fact of a man having voted; but its object was to prevent anyone from being able to prove how he had voted.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill to amend the Laws relating to procedure at Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, and for other purposes connected therewith, ordered to be brought in by Mr. WILLIAM EDWARD FORSTER, Mr. Secretary BRUCE, and the Marquess of HARTINGTON.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 45.]
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Ten o'clock.